Iran move within a whisker, Thailand out

  • ***All six hosts recorded victories in Asia's third round of qualifying

  • Iran moved within touching distance of qualification in Group A with a 1-0 win over China PR

  • Japan leads Saudi Arabia on goal difference at the top of Group B

THE DAY REPLAYED – In a matchday where all six hosts triumphed, Asia’s hopefuls defined why they are favourites in the decisive third round of Asian FIFA World Cup™ qualifying by prevailing on home soil respectively. In Group A, Iran moved within touching distance of qualification with a solitary-goal defeat of China PR in Tehran. In Group B, both joint leaders Japan and Saudi Arabia bagged back-to-back wins but it was the Japanese who returned to the top, leading the latter on goal difference courtesy of their 4-0 rout of Thailand.

Among the chasing pack, Korea Republic and Uzbekistan both bounced back to record 1-0 home wins, although the latter remains a point shy of the automatics. A 2-0 home win against United Arab Emirates saw Australia return to winning form, with the result maintaining their third-place in Group B. Elsewhere, Thailand became the first side to be eliminated after losing to Japan, while both China and Qatar saw their hopes hanging by a thread after losing away respectively. as we take a closer look at these crunch ties across the continent.

The matchJapan 4-0 Thailand Goals: Shinji Kagawa 8, Okazaki 19, Yuya Kubo 57, Maya Yoshida 83

An in-form Japan side proved too good for Thailand with the Samurai Blue winning comfortably 4-0 at home. The resounding victory, coupled with Saudi Arabia’s 1-0 win, saw the Japanese leapfrog the Saudis to Group B's top place on goal difference. As showed in the past, Japan's experience and pedigree were made to count as the competition reached the latter stages. The third round has proved to be no exception so far with Vahid Halilhodzic's men overcoming a disappointing start to gradually exert their dominance during the campaign.

Shinji Kagawa put the hosts in front inside eight minutes before Shinji Okazaki doubled the lead with his 50 international goal 11 minutes later. An impressive Yuya Kubo, who provided the assists for the opening two goals, would put the game beyond doubt, while Maya Yoshida wrapped up the emphatic win seven minutes from time.

ElsewhereHours after Japan’s win, Asia's final match saw Saudi Arabia continue their good run with a 1-0 home win against Iraq. Nawaf Al Abid came close to opening the scoring for the hosts in the first half only to see his goal-bound low shot hooked to safety from the goal-line by defender Ahmed Ibrahim. The breakthrough came shortly after the restart when Yahya Al Shehri scored the only goal with what should be among the goals of the matchday. The three points maintained the Saudis’ place among the top two with the Green Falcons on course to seal their FIFA World Cup return since Germany 2006.

Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie scored in each half as Australia dispatched UAE 2-0 at home. The Socceroos got off to a good start when Burton Albion midfielder Irvine headed the hosts ahead inside seven minutes with his debut international goal. Leckie settled the nerves with twelve minutes left by sealing the much-need three points. The victory ended Australia's four-match winless run and breathed life into their campaign. Having suffered their second successive loss in five days, UAE's hopeful campaign was put in jeopardy with their gap on section leaders Japan extended to seven points.

In Group A, Iran maintained their undefeated run by edging China PR 1-0 at home. Mehdi Taremi, the scorer of the match-winner in the last outing against Qatar, was again the hero by scoring the only goal. With the three points, Carlos Queiroz's Team Melli maintained their four-point cushion at the summit and a victory against Uzbekistan at home in the next fixture in June can book their passage to Russia 2018 regardless of other results. Marcello Lippi's Team Dragon, meanwhile, saw their hopes of one of the section's two automatic slots all but shattered and would need miracles in the remaining three games to leapfrog Uzbekistan to the third-place finish for a playoff place.

Defender Hong Jeongho scored the match-winning goal inside four minutes as Korea Republic defeated Syria 1-0 at home. Having missed the last match - the 1-0 loss in China - due to suspension, star-attacker Son Heungmin made an immediate impact upon his return, flicking a dangerous corner-kick which led to the decisive goal. The result saw the Taeguk Warriors maintain second position in the group, leading Uzbekistan by a point.

Uzbekistan put their 1-0 loss to Syria behind them, beating Qatar 1-0 at home and put their campaign back on track. In what was a pivotal game, captain Odil Ahmedov's sublime free-kick proved the difference as the Uzbeks bounced back to win at home. Trailing second-place Korea Republic by just a point, the Central Asians can still harbour hopes of progression-possibly by competing for the group's second qualifying spot behind Iran.

The playerIt seemed that Japan's double-headers saw the fast emergence of 23-year-old Yuya Kubo on the qualifying scene. Having broken his international duck by opening the scoring in the 2-0 away victory against UAE, the young Gent forward was again the star-performer tonight, having a hand in three goals as his side routed visiting Thailand. Kubo set up Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki in the first-half, before making it 3-0 with only his second international goal in the second half.

Did you know?Iran are the only team to have kept a clean sheet with zero goals conceded so far in the third round while Japan emerge the best scorers with 14 goals garnered. Thailand, meanwhile, conceded as many as 19 goals averaging nearly three goals per game.

What they said" very proud of the players, it was a challenging 10 days for us. We always know at home we’re a dominant team. We worked awfully hard. We pressed the way we wanted to and created opportunities. We deserved the victory," Australia coach Ange Postecoglou

Matchday 6 results*28 March*

Group A Korea Republic 1-0 Syria Iran 1-0 China PR Uzbekistan 1-0 Qatar

Group B Saudi Arabia 1-0 Iraq Australia 2-0 United Arab Emirates Japan 4-0 Thailand